With a knock on his hotel room door the day after making his debut for New Zealand, Mark Bailey's international career was finished.
It was 1998, in the ICC Knockout Trophy tournament (now Champions Trophy) in Bangladesh. Having played in the last-ball win over Zimbabwe in the preliminary match, where he didn't bat, bowl, or even take a catch, Bailey was told by captain Stephen Fleming that he wouldn't be needed for the quarterfinal against Sri Lanka.
"I knew what was going to happen, we were carrying an extra batter," Bailey recalled.
"So that was it."
Chasing 259 against Zimbabwe, Bailey was set to bat in in the middle order, but as the required rate got more demanding, he kept getting shunted down.
And that turned out to be his only action for the national side, apart from playing with the bronze-medal winning team at the Commonwealth Games earlier that year, with those matches not carrying official international status.
Bailey had got close to wearing the silver fern in 1996, when he was called over to the West Indies as an injury replacement, which he described as "a big thrill", but he is philosophical about what could have been on the international stage.
"I would've loved to have played more, but it was probably in my hands, my own fault that I didn't do that. Just never scored enough runs at the right time," he said.
On the domestic scene, Bailey's time with Northern Districts was one of great success, where he made batting look so easy, and collected a few crucial wickets with his medium-pacers along the way.
He is 11th on the province's list of first-class run-scorers, with 3468, including six centuries.
Probably the best of those was his highest score of 180 not out against Otago at Seddon Park, which got ND into a Shell Trophy final.
The stunning Shell Cup one-day final win in 1998 over a stacked Canterbury side was a major highlight, as was winning the Max competition under lights a month later.
Bailey also rated the day his Eastern Suburbs club claimed the Howden Cup on Seddon Park as highly memorable, along with facing the all-conquering touring Australian team of 2000.
But, looking back, Bailey says the best memories are not of particular innings or wins, rather of "the people".
"The team we had back in the mid to late 90s didn't change a lot, just a great bunch of guys, had an awesome coach and manager in Chris Kuggeleijn and Murray Angell. We were quite like a family for quite a few years. It was good times.
"The Marshall boys [Hamish and James], when they came onto the scene, were full of energy and young kids, and brought a lot of enthusiasm. The Joey Yovichs and the Daryl Tuffeys, the Parlane brothers [Michael and Neal] and the Hart brothers [Matthew and Robbie], Grant Bradburn, Alex Tait, they're all different in their own way and we just gelled really well together."
For Bailey, some off-seasons were spent playing in England, while others saw him working for the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry in the accounts section.
Looking at the game now, with contracts and the like, Bailey would have loved to have been able to play full-time and not worry about work, but realises the time just wasn't quite right.
"It just looks far, far, more professional," he said of the modern-day version.
"They have excellent playing facilities now. We used to train in the corner of Seddon Park here, it was hardly worth having a net some days. But now they get looked after extremely well."
Bailey's work with MAF led to his current full-time role as a field technician for AsureQuality Limited, where he visits farmers, many of them who still follow cricket avidly.
But the 43-year-old is still heavily involved in the great summer game.
For a year now he has been coaching the St Paul's Collegiate School 1st XI, who this season entered the Waikato Valley club competition, losing in last weekend's one-day final to Kaipaki.
Bailey was approached by the school about coaching a couple of years ago, and after initially turning down the offer, they came back to see if he'd reconsider.
"It's a great school to help, it's a great bunch of kids," he said.
"The coaching at school level surprised me, as probably all of sport at school level has, how semi-professional some of it is. It's a few more hours than I expected, but it's been great."
And in his role of coach Bailey has even taken the field to help out when the team were getting short of players.
So does the elegant right-hander still have the goods?
"It's been all right. Managed to hit a couple of singles here and there," he said.
"I've slightly got it I suppose. The messages don't quite get through to the feet and the hands as quick as they used to. But I don't think I disgraced myself, I could still run up and down the wicket without pulling a muscle. I really enjoyed batting with a couple of them, it's good to actually be out there and just to help them a little bit while we're on the field is the main reason."
While Bailey doesn't see himself going too far up the coaching ranks because he reckons the stresses that come with it aren't worth it, he would be keen on managing the Northern Knights one day, having also had a bit to do with the team in a season during Bradburn's coaching tenure.
"I always like following the ND boys," he said, adding that Kane Williamson is a favourite because of the way he goes about his work.
"I threw a few balls to him and I just loved his preparation and just the way he goes about playing, how he plays nice and straight."
When not working and coaching, the rest of Bailey's time is spent with wife Shirley - a teacher at Te Kowhai School - and his two children. Twelve-year-old Madison finished Year 7 at Te Kowhai this year, while 13-year-old Mitchell has completed Year 9 at St Paul's and is a budding cricketer, who is always keen on bowling in the nets at the 1st XI trainings.
"That's one of the great things about this time in your life, kids are growing up and getting old enough, you can do lots of things with them," Bailey said.
"They're all healthy and fit and we're looking forward to the Christmas holidays, like a lot of people."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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